Sleep that doesn’t come in a bed that can’t feel comfortable on a night my heart won’t beat.
I never met David Bowie. I didn’t know him personally. But I lost one of my dearest friends today.
My most recent blog was about flying to New York and being terrified of doing it alone. I was flying to see Lazarus, the play which Bowie helped write and create.
The play was based off a character he played in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth back in 1976. Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under) played the title character and brilliantly captured Bowie’s emotional portrayal of Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien who crashed to Earth and desperately wants to get back home. In the play, Newton has moved forward 40 years (not aged, however, he doesn’t age) but has lost hope of going home. He just wants to feel love. Love and acceptance and comfort. At the end of the play, Hall lays face up on the floor, surrounded by an outline of a rocket ship (made with duct tape), singing ‘Heroes’ and believing he has finally left this world to go home.
Last night, Bowie left in a rocket ship. Not quietly. Not gently. Apparently, he had been battling cancer for 18 months, and it was not a battle he was going to win. His friend and producer, Tony Visconti, said “I knew for a year this was the way it would be…”, citing that Bowie’s album Blackstar, which was released just three days ago, was his ‘parting gift’.
I couldn’t sleep last night. I went on Twitter to scroll through the lines of fluff and dark comedy that comes from those I follow. An artist I follow posted “aw man, I hope this is a hoax”, but as I kept scrolling, I saw no news, no story that would warrant that post. I went onto Instagram to continue my browsing, and I saw something that made my heart sink so deeply I had to catch my breath.
I just cried. I wept openly for someone I’d never met, for someone who didn’t know me in the slightest. I held my husband and thought of my grandmother, who died exactly 50 weeks prior from her own cancer battle. I thought of myself, of my own health, my loved ones, and I thought of his music.
I went through unbearable pits of depression and anxiety as a teenager, and Queen and David Bowie got me through them. I would play each of their albums on repeat until 5 in the morning, looking outside and wishing I was comfortable enough to join everyone else living their lives. I had a similar bout of pain during the winter of 2012. Imagine my utter glee when Bowie announced on his birthday in 2013 that he had a new album coming out that March. The Next Day helped me climb through another deep, dark tunnel and into a slightly less scary world that I’d been imagining.
I cannot yet process everything that this artist meant to me, but I can say that today is one month exactly since I saw Lazarus. The play takes the name from one of the tracks on Blackstar and takes on a whole new meaning when I listened to it today:
“Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now…
Oh I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me?”
When I was in New York, I walked Central Park for hours. I was thinking of my grandmother, how much I deeply missed her. We have a joke in our family that Grammy died and came back as a bird. My mother saw her as a peacock at their lakehouse, my grandfather saw her as an albino pigeon on the deck at home. I hadn’t seen her. I was waiting patiently, foolishly looking for any sign of her I could find. That day in Central Park, I sat on a bench overlooking the water, and she appeared.
As a blue jay. A blue bird.
She hopped over to me and sat within inches of my camera lens, chirping and nestling into the wood chips. Tears ran down my face as I took as many pictures as I could. When I finally stopped, I looked up and looked into that bird’s eyes. Then it flew away. I saw Lazarus that night.
and tonight, I will make a toast to a friend whom I loved and supported for decades of my still young life. I will send love to his family, as countless people did to mine when Grammy died, and as countless people have sent love to me today. I will hang my Lazarus poster alongside the lithograph I got from the Blackstar vinyl. I will put Scary Monsters and The Next Day and Aladdin Sane and Blackstar on my record player. I will cry. I will watch The Man Who Fell to Earth. And I will go to bed.
And I will wake up tomorrow.